Sunday, June 12, 2005

Battledores and Hornbooks

I have been thinking about how the alphabet has been presented visually over the centuries to gain insight into the way that different cultures have organized their writing system.

Battledores and hornbooks are two of the teaching aids of early literacy that have been used over the centuries. They present the alphabet in linear fashion, then a table of syllables and a religious text.

Hornbooks date from the 1400's to the late 1700's and were made of a small wooden paddle, on which was glued a sheet of paper, covered with a layer of cattle horn which had been soaked and prepared to become flattened and pliant. An alphabet, a short selection of syllables and often the Lord's Prayer were commonly printed on hornbooks.

Battledores, popular in the 1800's, were made of stiff folded cardboard with a greater surface area, so they could also contain pictures. Many of these also portrayed the alphabet, an array of syllables and the Lord's Prayer. However, some came in the form of an illustrated alphabet book.

Syllabaries have shown up as an aid to literacy from the time of the Formello Alphabet on an Etruscan vase to the Battledores of the early 1800's. But what is the role of the syllable in the teaching of reading today?


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